I was dating Jack when we started it. Maybe I should have seen where it was going before it even began, but I didn't.

My best friend Allison decided to celebrate the Fourth of July with a trip to a nearby town to watch the big city-sponsored fireworks. I was going, her boyfriend Nathan was going, our friends Ted and Natalie were going, and (to my surprise) her older brother Matt was going. Jack was in Costa Rica for a summer internship.

Allison and Ted were our drivers. Natalie volunteered to ride with Ted since she's had a crush on him since the day they met in tenth grade, and the rest of us climbed into Allison's car. She and Nathan settled into a comfortable conversation in the front seat while Matt and I looked at each other a little awkwardly in the back.

"Hey," I greeted tentatively.

"Hey, kid," he quietly replied, turning his head to look out the window.

I frowned. "I'm twenty-one, you know."

I could see the corner of his mouth turn up slightly even as he stared out at the passing scenery. "I know."

"That means I've been a legal adult for over three years now, and you can stop calling me 'kid'."

I heard a slight chuckle. "And what should I call you instead?"

"My name would suffice," I suggested with a roll of my eyes. "That's how most people address one another."

He turned to face me fully then, a look of distaste wrinkling his nose and forehead. "You want me to call you Alexandra? Really? I feel like I'm addressing a queen of ages past. No thank you."

I gave him my best withering glare. "You don't have to use the whole thing, Matt. There are plenty of suitable nicknames that can be made from Alexandra. Your sister, for instance, likes to call me Alex."

He shook his head without hesitation. "Too much of a boy name. You're no ditzy cheerleader, but you're not a tomboy either. You have to be one or the other to pull off a boy name." He studied me for a moment, smirk growing steadily. I lifted an eyebrow and waited for him to finish. "Besides," he continued, "some boy out there is one day going to have to tell his parents and friends that he's dating Alex. The gay jokes will be out in full force before the poor guy can say, 'I'm not a raging homosexual; Alex is a girl's nickname, damn you all.'"

"Which actually takes quite a long time to say," I couldn't resist pointing out.

He grinned. "Thanks for picking up on that."

"And I have a boyfriend. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever misunderstood his sexual orientation on the basis of my name," I informed him.

His eyebrows lifted in interest. "Do you really?"

I nodded. "Yeah. His name's Jack. We've been together for about six months now. But he's in Costa Rica for the next month and a half." I shrugged, and he made a small sound of acknowledgement. There was a beat of silence before I said, "Well, what about Lexie? That's what my grandma calls me."

"Same shit, different name, only in reverse," he replied. "Too girly. That's the ditzy cheerleader version."

I sighed heavily. "My parents call me Lex." This suggestion was met with a laugh.

"Is that because you are the personification of civilized law, or because you remind them of Lex Luthor, supervillain?"

Another sigh escaped me, this time accompanied by a shake of the head. "Allie?" I suggested, though I was beginning to think it was a lost cause.

He made a face. "That's what I call my sister. I can't call you both Allie."

"Al?" I offered.

"Boy name."

"Andi?" I already knew his response.

"Boy name, even if you spell it differently." A hint of a smirk started to curl the corners of his lips upwards again.

I was out of options. "Xandra?" I suggested, though I suspect the set of my eyebrows and the inflection of my voice gave away my thoughts on the matter.

"You aren't serious about that one, are you?" he asked, eyebrows lowering. I shook my head, conceding defeat. He spread his hands wide, palms up. "Well, there you are. You see my dilemma. And," Matt added, smirk returning in full force, "no matter how old you are, you'll always be younger than me. Sorry, kid." He paused, then added, "Get used to it, kid."

I lifted an eyebrow quizzically. "Did you just end the same monologue twice?"

He shrugged, completely unabashed. "Yeah. I couldn't decide which one I liked better, so I went with both. I just put the pause in to keep them separated."

Despite myself, I smiled a little. "You couldn't have combined them into one, like 'Sorry, kid. Get used to it'?"

"Absolutely not," he grinned. "Loses half the punch that way."

"And of course you couldn't have said, 'Sorry. Get used to it, kid,'" I teased.

"Never!" he agreed in the same light tone of voice. "Better ending, but a much weaker start."

"You're ridiculous," I muttered, rolling my eyes and directing my attention out the window. I heard him laugh softly beside me, shifting his body slightly in the seat as our badinage ended.

Matt and I were not secretly in love with one another, despite what all those romantics would have you believe about the relationship between a girl and her best friend's brother. We were not enemies either. We were not friends. We were just… nothing. There was no relationship there at all, just a void that had never been filled with any kind of emotional ties.

Allison and I had become friends in first grade after I had decided that the girl who had been my best friend up to that point was a bossy control freak and I wanted out. Allison was just the opposite: she was sweet and funny and sometimes overly obliging to the point where I wanted to scream at her to make a decision of her own. She also happened to have a brother who was three years older than she was. For a first grade girl, a brother in fourth grade is hardly a good playmate, so we left Matt alone and he certainly didn't ask to be part of our Barbie tea parties or to finger paint flowers and suns with us. As we got a little older, the gap between us didn't seem to shrink any. When we finally reached middle school, he was starting high school. When we started high school, he was already a senior with nothing to gain from an association with a couple of lowly freshman girls. To be honest, we didn't particularly want to hang out with a senior anyway. We were happy with each other and our own friends. And then he left for college. I knew from things Allison had said that he now lived and worked in the area, but I had seen him only a handful of times in the intervening six years since high school. So, as I said, our relationship was simply nonexistent.

I suppose it was also the reason for my curiosity about what made him join us that day. When I broke the silence that had settled between us with, "Do you like fireworks then?" I wanted to wince at how lame I sounded. While I liked to think that I was a real adult now that I was twenty-one and about to begin my last year of college, being around Matt still made me feel like a gawky teenager, self-conscious and immature.

He glanced at me. "Who doesn't like fireworks?" he asked rhetorically.

"Yeah," I automatically replied. Then I corrected myself. "Actually, I don't really like them."

His eyebrows shot up in disbelief. "What? Why?"

I shrugged awkwardly. "I guess they just make me feel lonely," I started, looking down at my hands. "There's something about being in the dark, looking up at the stars, watching these beautiful but very short-lived, transient sparks fly up into the sky that makes me ache a little." I chanced a glance at him and found him watching me very intently and slightly curiously. It was a look I'd never seen directed at me before, and it was a look that said he had never perceived me in this way before and he was intrigued. It gave me a little rush of confidence. "Fireworks are one of those things that we all sit down in a big mass and share without any actual interaction or participation. Just because I sat down next to someone on a blanket and watched the same colored lights explode in the sky doesn't mean that we know each other or that we've bonded in any way. We're still just two individual people who happen to have witnessed the same man-made phenomenon. We leave just as lonely as we came, maybe more so because we leave more aware of being alone and more aware of our small isolation in the midst of a giant cosmos."

"But doesn't the fact that you shared the experience bring you closer in some way?" he asked quietly, cocking his head to the side.

I shook my head. "I don't think so. Maybe if you're consciously sharing it with a specific person. Maybe if you had someone to share a physical connection with, it wouldn't feel like you were being lost in the cosmos with room for millions of miles between us all. Maybe it's the physical anchor that I miss." I stopped myself, slightly embarrassed at blurting my thoughts out to someone I barely knew, and met his eyes. "Sorry, I don't really know what I'm talking about. I just don't like watching fireworks alone because they make me sad. Let's just leave it at that."

He gave me a small smile. "Let's test your theory. Instead of watching them alone side by side, we'll watch them together side by side and see if you like them any better. We'll celebrate Independence Day by practicing our interdependence." A goofy grin lit up his light brown eyes, and I couldn't help smiling back. "I think the founding fathers would have approved."

And that, I suppose, was the beginning of everything. Later, when all six of us had finished our picnic dinner, we situated ourselves as comfortably as we could on the ground to face the horizon where the fireworks would soon appear. Nathan put his arm around Allison, and she leaned against him contentedly. They didn't speak, but they didn't need to. Ted and Natalie were flirting on Nathan's other side, completely oblivious to the world around them. Matt was lounging on his elbows next to me and watching the people who walked past, commenting on anybody particularly interesting or patriotic. There is one moment I remember before the fireworks started, just as the sun was setting, when I turned back to look at him. I had just seen a woman with a gaudy red star-shaped headband, white and blue streamers coming from each point of that star, whom I wanted to point out, but for just a second, I paused to study him. The last rays of the sun were like liquid gold as they lit his hazel eyes, golden curls lifting slightly in the breeze, blue t-shirt pulled taut across his shoulders by his posture but rumpled slightly over his stomach. It was the first time I saw him as a person with whom I could be friends. It was the first time I ever saw him as anything but Allison's older brother. It was the first time I ever found him attractive. But the change was mostly subconscious and it took only a fraction of a second as I leaned down toward him and pointed out the garish attire of the unwitting victim of her own patriotism. The grin he gave me in response was conspiratorial and made my heart swell with the feeling that maybe I was a grown-up after all, even to Matt.

It was about a half hour later that the fireworks began. As the first one exploded, I felt Matt sit up and nudge me with his shoulder. "Ready for Experiment: Interdependence?" he murmured. Then he frowned and added, "I don't want your boyfriend to come back and beat me up or anything, so we're all clear that we're just pretending to be together for a few minutes for the sake of the fireworks, right?" I nodded, wondering how exactly he thought things would change. But I noticed that he kept his shoulder close enough to touch mine even as his attention returned to the sky. I watched the first fireworks with a small smile, but the usual ache started to settle into my chest after a few minutes. At one point, I noticed Matt glance at me out of the corner of his eye, and then I felt his hand slide over mine. His fingers laced themselves between my own, and he squeezed my hand gently. I looked over, and he offered a smile. I felt my own smile return as his thumb brushed lightly over my knuckles. As the grand finale began, he released my hand and put his arm loosely around my waist. I rested my head lightly in the crook of his neck for the last few moments, and for the first time I could remember, the crescendo of lights and sound and spectacle made me happy.

"You were right," he murmured as the claps and cheers began, slowly withdrawing his arm from around me. "That's a lot better when you're not alone."

I looked up at him and told him honestly, "I'm glad you're here."

I don't think Matt was the slightest bit in love with me at this point. He'll tell you himself that it was a long time yet before he even thought of me in that way. Still, it was a beginning.


A/N: Each chapter will center around one occasion for which "nobody wants to be alone." This is probably my least favorite chapter in the entire story, but the story needs to start somewhere. I expect this will be around 10 chapters all told.